Two years ago we were sure that the most important aspect of Maud’s presidency — the topic which historians would focus on 50 years from now — was her efforts to bring free speech (back) to Williams. How wrong we were! Maud’s decisions during the CV-19 pandemic will define her place in the history books. Let’s spend a week or two discussing her latest message.

Three cheers for Maud Mandel!

EphBlog sometimes gives the impression that we don’t like the decisions that Maud makes. And, it is true! We don’t like (some of!) her decisions. Yet there have been two critical issues in Maud’s three years as president: Ensuring free speech and bringing back all students. She got both of them correct! Hooray for Maud! Indeed, there have been no more important sentence written by a Williams president in the last decade (or more) than this one:

I’m writing to inform you that Williams plans to convene an in-person semester for fall 2020.

This was the correct call. Yet it was also a call that could have gone differently, that Maud could have messed up. (This was not the case with her decision to send students home in March. That was important, of course, but, since every elite college did the same thing, it was (essentially) impossible for Maud to mess it up. No college president deserves major credit for making the same decision as all her peers.)

Consider Bowdoin:

We will have some students back in the fall, but not all students. The group on campus will be:
our new first-year and transfer students;
students who have home situations that make online learning nearly impossible;
a very small number of senior honors students who cannot pursue their pre-approved projects online and require access to physical spaces on campus, and can do so under health and safety protocols; and
our student residential life staff.

All other sophomores, juniors, and seniors will remain off campus for the fall semester and will take their courses online. With priority given to seniors, if the fall semester goes as we hope, we expect to have our seniors, juniors, and sophomores return to campus for the spring semester, with the added possibility that our winter and spring athletes may be able to engage with their sports in some way. We expect that our first-year and transfer students will study remotely in the spring.

And Amherst:

However, after lengthy and careful deliberations, we conclude that we can adhere to the best public health guidance and offer an excellent educational experience to students who are on and off campus if we bring approximately 1,200-1,250 students to campus in the fall. This represents just over 60 percent of our total enrollment and between 70 and 75 percent of those who indicated interest in returning to campus for their studies. We hope to bring back even more students in the spring, ideally all who wish to be here. Should that prove unwise, those students who could not be here in the fall will have priority in the spring. With this structure, we can provide the opportunity for every student who wishes to be on campus to spend at least one semester here and, if things go well, both semesters for a large number of those students.

For the fall, we will give priority to all first-year students, all transfer students, all sophomores, any seniors who are scheduled to graduate at the end of the fall semester, and seniors who are returning to campus after spending the fall and/or spring term of the 2019-20 academic year studying abroad. In addition, two categories of students may petition to study on campus: senior thesis writers whose work requires access to campus facilities or materials that would otherwise be unavailable; and students whose home circumstances impede their academic progress.

Amherst and Bowdoin have similar wealth (and similar physical plant?) to Williams. Maud could have done what they did. But she didn’t’. Yeah Maud! Comments:

1) How different are the number of singles between Amherst/Bowdoin and Williams? It seems like this might have played a major role in their decision-making. Does Williams plan/promise a single to every student on campus this fall?

2) What effects will this have on enrollment at Amherst/Bowdoin? I would be sorely tempted to take a gap year if I were a student there, especially if I were an athlete, especially if a bunch of my friends were taking gap years. Indeed, what advice would you give to seniors at these schools? The job market will certainly look a lot better in the fall of 2021 than it will this fall . . .

3) Do you agree with Maud/EphBlog that this was the correct decision?

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